5CAN Examples – learning organisation

The free 5CAN tool has been online for three months now, and it has been tried by a number of organisations. The answers and reports are confidential, but we can see a few trends. First of all, organisations seem to be very self-critical, because we note that the average score is below 3. Is this particular to non-profit organisations working for development? Secondly, the lowest scores can be found in the capability to (balance diversity and) achieve coherence. What does this say about the organisations?

It is a bit early to analyse this first trend in more detail, but you can find out how your organization scores in comparison. So if you have not yet done so, do a quick scan for your organisation. The tool is free and intended to allow users to get a feeling of the 5C model. We particularly hope that Southern organisations will try the 5CAN to see if it is useful for reflecting on their organizational capacity.

In our blogs we show some examples and practical experiences of looking at organisations using the 5CAN tool.  After the pioneer organisation and the multinational corporation in two previous blogs, we will look at an example of a typical learning organisation.

A learning organisation

A learning organisation is an organisation that facilitates its internal learning with the intention to improve its practice. As a result it continuously transform itself. To enable joint learning the organisation encourages the staff of the organisation to shift to a more interconnected way of thinking. A learning organisation is often organised informally and horizontally, with leaders that trust and encourage the staff members. The employees are committed and put pride in shaping a strong organisation. The learning organisation has dedicated sufficient time and funds for learning and innovation. Learning organisations have the ability to develop sufficient resilience and sustainability in the changing environment.

This may lead to a 5CAN results that looks like this:

radar learning org


The organisation scores quite high on all capabilities, and there is no score below 3. This is higher than the pioneer organisation and multinational corporation we wrote about before, and also more than the average score of the organisations that have tried the 5CAN until now. This seems logical as the organisation can be expected to learn from its mistakes and deal with them in time. But the learning organisation also has its weaknesses and possible traps.

Evidently, the learning organisation has a high score on the capability to adapt and self-renew (= 4.5). Internal discussions, dialogue and reflection take place at regular intervals, and change is valued highly. The organisation constantly renews itself to fit its context based on lessons learned and new insights.

The learning organisation is also likely to score high on the capability to commit and engage (4.2). Staff members feel committed as they have a clear say in the operations, policy and strategy development. As the organisation is capable of continuous adaption to the changing environment, the organisational niche will change to remain relevant and attractive for its stakeholders.

While helping to remain relevant, these constant changes also reduce the score for the capability to deliver on development objectives (3.5). The skills, systems and structures to deliver are constantly being adapted and strengthened, but time is short to perfect and ingrain each approach. The score on this capability gives a good indication how effective the learning organisation is in translating their learned lessons into improved practices.

The capability to relate and attract resources scores 3.5. A learning organisation will swiftly relate to other actors and organisations when they feel the need, creating meaningful relationships. The learning organisation will always endeavour to work complementary to other organisations. However, there is a certain risk of focussing more on internal learning and sacrificing external relationships. Investing in learning might take some time before improvements in the quality of the work can be seen, resulting in a loss of ability to attract resources. The organisation will not have much trouble to mobilise adequate human resources, this is one of their strengths.

And lastly, the capability to balance coherence and diversity scores 3.4. A learning organisation will endeavour to respect diversity within the organisation and use it to improve the work. The capacity to resolve conflict is high. However, some people feel more comfortable in a learning setting than others, which could reduce diversity. The organisation will try to keep focus even though the environment is very demanding and diverse, but runs the risk of reacting slow when a sudden crisis emerges because of an inward looking and contemplating attitude.

Indicators learning org auke

The total score for each capability in the 5CAN is calculated from a number of indicators. When looking in more detail we find that two similar indicators score low: (1) the financial situation of the organisation and (2) financial management. The learning organisation should consider a number of questions: Are the sources for financing the work of your organisation sufficiently diverse? How can resource mobilisation be strengthened? What elements of the financial administration could be improved? What financial information could help staff to work more economically and effectively?

Next steps for the learning organisation

It is important to note that not all capabilities have to be equal. However, all five capabilities need to be present for a strong, resilient and sustainable organisation. In this example all capabilities are sufficiently high. Still, there are some points to look into. The 5CAN draws attention to the risk of losing credibility when not delivering on organisational objectives and the risk of insufficient resources to continue. The learning organisation might be spending too much time on internal learning and reflection, without delivering on their objectives and hereby losing commitment of some of the staff members.

We suggest to pay due attention to the capabilities to deliver on organisational objectives and to balance coherence and diversity. A more action-oriented focus could be useful. Furthermore the organization should pay attention to its financial sustainability by ensuring that the financial decision-making and systems are efficient and well linked to the work.

The benefit from discussing the organisation with the 5C model is that it does not provide a hard checklist of capacity gaps that need improvement. But it builds a shared awareness of the capabilities that the organisation wants to develop, which will direct and monitor organisational strengthening. Based on their own analysis, the learning organisation can structure its goals in a capacity development and learning plan, and find an appropriate way of tracking progress.